Tag Archives: Family Ties

We Are Family

I grew up in a very traditional nuclear family. So did my parents. So did my grandparents. And so on, and so on. I remember thinking nothing of it.

Today all the folks we consider kinfolk has expanded dramatically. Adoption, marriage, babies, step kids…I often joke that we have duct taped and stapled folks to our family tree.

And that’s a good thing for all of us.

Over spring break we visited Hope’s side of the family. Previous visits were short,this one had us in the area for 3 days. It was worth all the driving and all the angst.

I’ve always known this but I see and know it more than ever now: There is something about being with your people that is incredibly powerful. Nature means folks look like you and sound like you, act like you. Hope’s biological relationship with her kinfolk is undeniable; she looks just like them.

We learned a lot about Hope’s family on this trip. I better understand why kinship adoption wasn’t the best fit and how that truth has nothing to do with love. I wish that things had been different for Hope and for them, but we can only look forward. On this trip I learned what it feels like to also be grafted into a family tree. I imagine that this isn’t quite what Hope felt, but maybe something along a parallel track.

This is the family visit when it all came together.

Well it did for me anyway. I think Hope is still trying to figure it all out. For us adults, we have life skills and emotional intelligence to make this work more easily. I see their love for my daughter; they see my love for their daughter. There doesn’t need to be any drama; we are a family and we’ll do what we have to in order to make it work for Hope because that’s what sensible grown folks do.

Hope still has some work to do in this area. She has quickly become territorial about aspects of the experience and even the chocolate cake her grandmother made because she knows I love cake. Hope isn’t a big fan of cake. It will likely go uneaten because I decided to just let it be her cake, which I know she will not eat (more on the cake in a separate post).

It is a strange thing for all the adults in a room brought together by the love of a child to get it together only to watch the child struggle.

My daughter was frustrated by the family desire to talk about her parents; she quietly complained that she didn’t want to talk about them unless they came up in conversation, but they did, a lot. My inner monologue also was running and said, “Well why the hell are we here if not to be around your family who will no doubt talk a lot about your parents???” I knew better than to ask that question out loud.

I relished in getting pictures of my daughter as a little girl with her parents, while she alternated between balking and sobbing at the imagery and demanding copies of everything. Mid-trip we talked about what it felt like to sit up at night and intensely study the pictures looking for resemblance and connection.

While I’m happy to have taken this trip, now that we are home I’m realizing the real emotional cost. It is hurts to know that my daughter doesn’t understand that there is enough love and loyalty to go around. There will be more questions, there will be more trips. I feel grafted into the family, but I’ve still got lots of questions and curiosity from my own biological family about “them.” If history is predictive, there will be big emotions. There will be clingyness. There will be pulling away. There will be anger. There will be just a lot of stuff. It exhausts me thinking about it.

But I would do it again. How could I deny Hope her family? How in good conscious could I do that? My emotional output is minimal compared to the opportunity to reconnect with family. To see her family delight in seeing her again, getting reacquainted, to have the chance to share childhood stories of her lost parent, to see themselves in her…it is a beautiful thing to witness.  This isn’t just for Hope; it’s for all of them.

We’ll visit again and again. I look forward to inviting them to visit, to graduations, to a wedding, to birthday parties and other events.

We are family.


ABM & DAI – The Sequel

I am so excited to share the second part of my series with The Donaldson Adoption Institute! In this post I discuss how same race adoptive families of color can also struggle with racial identity issues.  Sometimes class and race issues are socially tightly knit together.

For our children coming from hard places, becoming a part of a new family is a paradigm shift.  They may be struggling with big emotions like grief and fear; they are learning to be a part of a family that is likely a lot more functional that what they understand…there are new people, new schools, new everything. Often times there are also more resources.

My daughter Hope had a very different understanding of what it meant to be black before meeting me. It’s been a challenge for her to reconcile that black folk are not a monolith. Whether she or I want to admit it or not, the truth is that Hope is a solidly middle class kid now. Most of the time she seems comfortable with that, but in this Dondalson post I talk about when it’s not quick so easy for her.

Again, I’m delighted that the organization thought my voice was important and valuable. I’m totally jazzed that the good folks there have decided to feature my story as in honor of Black History Month.

Here is the link to the second of my two-part series over on the Donaldson Adoption Institute blog.  Be sure to stop by their Facebook page and hit them up on Twitter too!

dai

RACE, PRIVILEGE & FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS


Boxes on Shelves

I listen to an absurd number of podcasts. Today on the way home from Hope’s orthodontia appointment, I cued up a recent episode of Modern Love. The episode featured essays read by recent Emmy winners. The first essay was written by a birth mother and her experiences with an open adoption. It’s a beautiful story that is full of love, heartbreaking and shows that these relationships can be beautiful but complicated.

At one point in the story, she says it is like being invited to dinner but not knowing where to sit. I totally get that. Even with the privilege that comes with being the legal parent, it’s awkward as hell.

Sometimes, depending on the content of a podcast, I might switch it up. Hope gets regular doses of politics, essays, crime stories, diversity and inclusion content…yeah, she is subjected to a lot, and at some point I’ll write my own essay about why this has been an academically good thing for her.

Today, I inhaled deeply as I realized what essay was about to be played. I’d heard the essay when it first aired, but Hope had not heard it. I thought about changing to another podcast, but stopped myself.  I know she listens when she’s in the car; it’s one of our most sacred spaces. I guessed that she might not want to talk about the essay later, but I was curious what she might say when she heard it read.

So, I just let it play.

I periodically glanced to see if Hope had any reactions; she really didn’t. But know she was listening, and I know that at some point we’ll probably talk about it.

Then I got lost in my own thoughts, thinking about how our own family has expanded in the nearly three years we’ve been together.

We observed the birthday of one of her first parents earlier this week. It was healthy, but emotional observation complete with a birthday cake.

I wondered what it must’ve felt like to be separated from Hope.

I wondered about how difficult it was to know that legally they would be separated forever—legally, not necessarily physically.

I wonder what Hope’s extended family thinks of how our relationship is going? Do they believe that Hope isn’t very chatty or that I am preventing her from calling them? I’m not, but do they recognize how complicated this relationship is for her? Do I realize how complicated this relationship is for them?

Do they also feel the push/pull that both Hope and I feel? The desire to build this healthy relationship and to try to quickly foster something, some kind of connection with the need to feel and be emotionally safe?

I wonder what will the future look like? I have information that some days burns a hole in my lock box because I want to chase Hope’s mom. I wonder what things will be like when we all do meet one day, since I believe that we will.

As the story concluded I gathered my thoughts and put them back in that emotional box that I keep on the shelf and put them away.

I looked over at Hope, still no expression, no words, no facial movements, no nothing.

But I know her; I know under her stoicism that a lot runs through her mind.

As that segment of the show came to a close and another reading began, I saw her reactions. She giggled and asked questions.

Like me, she had put those emotions away for another day.

Figuring out how to *do* this adoption, family, open thing is complicated, but something we’ll continue to try to figure out together.


Searching for Self

The search for information about Hope’s family started a year ago for me. I starting digging for numerous reasons, I suppose, but mostly I was curious about how this kid ended up in my home instead of with her parents  or with some extended family.  I just couldn’t understand how somebody in her family couldn’t make a kinship adoption work.

Honestly, it is still a mystery to me on some levels, even if I now know–intellectually at least–why.

I poked around with the help of a friend on Hope’s father’s side of the family.  I had more information about him; I knew where he was from; I also had a better sense of who he was because Hope talks about him a lot.

All I have about Hope’s mother is her full name, nationality and a scattering of information in the adoption disclosure records.  Hope and her mother were separated when Hope was very young; there aren’t many memories to go on.

Hope has been wanting to get an account on Ancestry-dot-com. I’ve declined repeatedly.  Lots of reasons for that.  I know that as thirsty for information as Hope can be, that showing her the records I have managed to acquire over the last year, in what I hope is a safe, controlled environment still triggered some emotional tailspins.  And while that’s true, it’s is hard to say no to a kid who just wants to know who she is. Add to that the developmental teen years when identity development is so front and center, well…

This weekend Hope and I visited some family; at some point in my trip one of my sisters was cruising around looking for family on Ancestry.  It was a fascinating process, tedious too, uncovering some family history, maybe a secret or two and just seeing how far back we could go. I noted my own sister’s curiosity about our family.  Earlier in the day I had taken Hope to meet a family member who still lives in the same county, on the same property near where my mother was raised.  I spent a lot of my childhood there playing the fields, picking grapes and berries, listening to box fans whirl while propped in windows during the summer. These experiences in these places with my family are very much a core to who I am.

And just like that, unexpectedly, the tail end of Spring Break was all about family.

So, when Hope publicly asked me to sign up for Ancestry last night, in front of my family, I couldn’t say no; even though I am still not positive we are stable enough to handle what we might find.

So, on the way home, Hope and I talked. Talking about Hope’s mom is tough.  The feelings are raw; the viewpoint is unforgiving, the experiences and feelings are locked in a protective glass case.

I opened the case last night, cautiously. I shared what I knew; dropped a bombshell that I did know about Hope’s lineage. Then I spent a good 30 minutes talking to hope about grace and forgiveness sometimes being for our own benefit, and that I’m sure her parents would have been able to make different choices if different options were available; or if they thought/knew different options were available.  I tried to explain that systems are not always set up to help us in the ways we need to be helped.

Hope wondered what life for her would’ve have been like if her parents had the help and support they needed.  I remember how I felt rejected when the first time she said something like this; I don’t anymore.  I just feel sad because I wonder what life would’ve been like too, for all of us.

When we got home I showed Hope some more papers from her disclosure records that helped me know what I do know about her parents.  There are some things she wants to frame.

It was a bit shocking to me that she wanted to frame a copy of a copy of a document. But I get it. I just wish that we didn’t have to wait until she is 18 to get authentic copies of things she’s entitled too.  It infuriates me that I can’t request them on her behalf–after all, I am legally her mother now. I also know that these documents are important to Hope’s healing and development.

We also talked about what it might feel like to stumble upon some big information on Ancestry.  Was Hope ready?  Was she ok with that?  What would it feel like? Now she’s not so sure she’s ready to search for stuff.  It’s not that I don’t want her to search at all; it’s the uncontrolled environment that scares me.

Even more so, it’s the reaction to information and what it means for my coping with her coping that scares me.

Sounds pretty selfish, but honestly, other than in my own therapy and a couple of close friends, I don’t talk about what the emotional upheaval is like in my “real” life other than to say it’s hard and I’m still standing.

We go through some emotional stuff around these parts.  It’s sooooo much better than it used to be.  We’ve gotten better at processing it, but it is never easy. It takes a toll.

And I’d be lying if I said I wish I could avoid it, even though I know I can’t.

This family journey search will likely be one of the most important, most challenging, most enlightening, most shocking, most scary, most awesome journeys Hope and I will travel together.

I’m scared I won’t get it right.  I’m scared that whatever grace is needed from me will run out.  And yeah, to some degree, I’m scared that I might get rejected.

So, like many things I’m going to work on this behind the scenes for a while and see what I can find so that I’m prepped and ready to help Hope find herself–because that’s what this is really about, right?


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